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The Gift of the Present

December 09, 2020

The simple, yet challenging practice of focusing on the present moment builds your ability to guide your thoughts toward what matters most to you. That may be greater productivity, deeper relaxation, stronger connections with your loved ones, or broader compassion for your neighbors near and far.

What if you could give your friends, family, and yourself the gift of greater focus and inner calm? You can’t buy this gift online or in stores, but you might get it through the practice of mindfulness. Scientist and meditation educator Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that comes from paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

 

In this season of giving, Penn offers faculty and staff free, virtual programs to learn more about mindfulness practice.

“Mindfulness practice is a structured mental process that steadies and deepens awareness by bringing attention to rest on a stable focus,” says Dr. Michael Baime, founder and director of the Penn Center for Mindfulness. Through mindful meditation, you exercise the parts of your brain that manage attention and regulate and balance emotions. By improving your ability to redirect your attention and attend to your feelings; your life experiences will become richer at work, at home, and in your community.

Normally, Baime observes, we are constantly thinking, planning, scheming, remembering and longing. Imagine you have five or ten minutes where you don’t have to do anything. It may sound heavenly, but if you’re waiting in line at the store, doing nothing might not feel so great. Instead of appreciating the break, our brains fill with thoughts. Maybe we reach for our phones or start worrying about physical distancing as our minds try to predict the future or replay the past. Mindfulness guides our thoughts away from regrets or predictions and into the present where you just might notice something wonderful.

Baime says, “What mindfulness lets you do is show up more fully, more often, and to notice that in a more satisfying way.”

According to Baime, there’s no single correct way to practice mindfulness. Penn’s workshops will introduce you to basic methods for you to try on your own, such as focus on breathing, while opening the door to other ways to train your attention.

“Your attention is going to wander off pretty quickly,” says Baime. “Just to come back simply. Don’t give yourself a hard time; just notice that you’ve wandered and come back. You might wander and come back a hundred times.”

Meditation practice activates key networks in the brain and builds them up, which Baime says, “changes the hardware you use to have a life.”

Learn how to update your mental hardware and give yourself the gift of the present by registering for a Penn mindfulness program this month.

“You don’t have to do anything special,” says Baime. “You just have to show up.”

For additional resources, visit www.hr.upenn.edu/mindwellatpenn.